A recent study by the University of the West of England (UWE) has suggested that commuters are spending such a significant amount of time on work emails whilst travelling that this should be factored into working time.

The study, which measured passengers’ activity during the morning and evening train journey from London to Aylesbury, found that 54% of individuals who were using the train’s Wi-Fi connection were doing so to send work emails. A considerable number of other passengers were also using their own mobile phone connections to do the same.

This should provide food for thought for employers who regularly allow this practice to take place, often seeing it as a welcome sign of a committed workforce. Although there is currently no legislation in place which suggests time spent on emails during commutes should count as working time, employers should be wary of staff becoming disgruntled and lodging complaints that they should be paid for additional time spent answering work emails during their free time. Working outside of normal working hours brings under the microscope compliance with both the laws on maximum working hours, and minimum rates of pay.

Employers should avoid creating an environment where staff are coerced into completing unpaid work outside of normal working hours. Failure to do so can create a number of problems with a recent case in Ireland ruling that an employer had broken the law on working time as the obligation to complete additional unpaid work at home meant an employee was denied their statutory rest allowance.

Employers should ensure staff are able to switch off after work as this is important for their overall health and wellbeing, as well as preventing instances of burnout and ensuring productivity levels remain high. As such, work levels should be monitored by line managers to ensure reasonable expectations are placed on staff and that work duties can be completed within paid working hours.
If employers discover that certain individuals are consistently having to answer emails outside of working hours then this should be investigated. If these individuals are struggling to get through their allocated work, then employers should consider where training may increase their capability or where more difficult work may need to be distributed to a more experienced employee. Addressing this will help employers in their efforts to retain and recruit staff, with a positive attitude towards work-life balance often seen as a successful marketing tool when it comes to acquiring talent.

Ultimately employers should not let this activity go unnoticed and whilst it may be acceptable on occasion, it should not be allowed to develop into a common business practice. Managers and senior employees should lead by example and avoid the temptation to take work home with them which will remove any expectation on other employees to follow suit.